So much has occurred since my last writing, so I have much to share in catching up. For a period of nine glorious days - November 14th through November 23rd - I had the dream of a lifetime realized: a trip to the Holy Lands ! For over 20 years I had prayed about this, hoping that it was the Lord who was putting this dream upon my heart. Then in early spring of 2015 the doors opened up for me to book a trip, and in November I was able to go with my very dear friend, Janice, on pilgrimage. Joining 54 other travelers, we joined up with Steve and Janet Ray, and Jesse and Anita Romero, to journey into the very sacred places where Jesus walked, preached, fished, ate, died and then rose again during His precious 33 years among humanity, (www.footprintsofGodpilgrimages.com).
O, where to begin...
The scene to the right is the view we had from our balcony at the Ron Beach Hotel in Tiberias. This shot is the magnificant sunrise which greeted us upon the Sea of Galilee the first full morning we were there. I found myself just standing there in awe for the longest time - taking in the sound of the water lapping upon the shore, and the smell of its glorious breeze which still held the warmth of summer temperatures even in mid-November.
It would take me pages and pages to re-create the travels of our journey, but I feel compelled to at least share with you many of the highlights.
For nine amazing days, we were pilgrims in every sense of the word, traveling to the most profound sites and scenes that every child of God would be privileged to lay eyes on: Mount Tabor, Cana of Galilee, the grotto of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the site where the Holy Family lived, the Mount of Beatitudes, Cesarea Philippi, Tabgha (the site of the multiplication of loaves and fishes), the house of St. Peter where Jesus stayed in Capernaum, the synagogue in Capernaum (where Jesus taught 'eat my flesh and drink my blood'), the Jordan River, the site of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, the Shepherds' cave in Shepherds' field in Bethlehem, Ein Karem (where Mary greeted her cousin, Elizabeth, in the hill country), the Pater Noster Church on the Mount of Olives (where Jesus taught His disciples the Our Father), the Church of all Nations (the Church of the Agony) across from the Garden of Gethsemane, the Upper Room, (where the priesthood was instituted, as well as the sacraments of Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation), the Abbey of the Dormition (where Mary 'fell asleep'), the entire Via Dolorosa, the rock of Calvary, the sacred cistern where Jesus was held captive on Holy Thursday, the tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Anointing Stone where Jesus' body was prepared for burial, the grotto in Jerusalem where Mary was born, the pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the crippled man, and the City of David where the steps leading up to King David's palace still stand - to name a few....
Knowing from the get-go that there would be way too much information for me to retain in one small brain, I willingly followed the invaluable words of my spiritual director - to remember that I am going as a pilgrim, and to 'pack up my donkey each day', going wherever the Lord takes me, listening and absorbing whatever His Divine Providence allows throughout the journey. It was this inspired advice that helped me enjoy every moment, knowing that the Lord would touch my heart in the right place and the right time with whatever memories He so chose - and I continually thanked His glorious generosity in pouring out such tremendous blessings.
The return home was fueled with so much to ponder and so many warm good-byes. Our 12 hour flight back to the U.S. landed us safe and sound, as we headed for home sweet home.
It was two days after arriving back in Massachusetts that I experienced the 'second blessing' of this tremendous trip, which would now last a lifetime. The very next Mass I attended brought me right back to the sandy beach along the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus told the disciples to throw their net to the other side of the boat, as they had caught nothing the night before. Shortly thereafter Jesus lovingly confronts Peter and asks him directly, "Peter, do you love Me?" three times.
My heart jumped, "I was there! I walked that beach, and saw the three beautiful heart shaped stones that have been placed on the shore to represent Jesus' conversation with Peter. I walked on that same sandy shore, where the divine feet of Jesus walked !" I felt my heart jump with great thanksgiving and joy.
This will now truly become "the gift that keeps on giving", as scripture will now be filled with sites and sounds of places I have been. My thoughts will now easily turn to the courtyard where Jesus first taught His disciples the Our Father, or help me remember the sacred spot where the Angel Gabriel announced the profound news of the Word becoming flesh to Mary, and even take me back to the hillside which Mary climbed to visit Her cousin, Elizabeth.
Christmas will never be the same - as I have touched the holy place where He lay in that little manger. Good Friday and Easter Sunday will now be remembered 'on location' in the very spot where these events were lived and experienced. Here, where Jesus sweat His own precious blood, praying to His Father "not My will but Yours be done", we stood next to several trees and surroundings in the Garden of Gethsemane which were known to be greater than 2000 years old, (picture right).
The Upper Room is now a real place in my heart and mind, (pictured below) - and my thanksgiving for the sacred sacraments established there is so much more inspired. Made ever more profound by the actions of Fr. Daniel Good, (the joyful Alabama priest who traveled with us), we were blessed by the witness of his heartfelt gratitude to God. As Steve Ray was reminding us of the truths of our Catholic faith which were given birth in this holy place, Father Dan had stepped aside to lay himself prostrate upon this holy ground. He knew at a deeper level where he was, and couldn't help himself - but to lay his body upon this floor where his glorious priesthood was born. Without speaking a word, his actions touched us deeply and we were powerfully reminded of the gift of the priesthood for God's beloved people.
It is my deepest prayer that every soul who hungers for the joy of this journey will be given the great blessing of traveling to these unforgettable places - to see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and experience with their hearts those anointed sites and sounds that accompanied our Savior during His 33 years among us. Even now I find myself continually amazed that I was there - walking where He walked.
Know that I brought every soul with me 'upon my donkey' each beautiful day of this journey - each of you who finds consolation in this blog, each of you who journeys along this road of faith and trust with me, each of you who searches for that bold and beautiful Truth that only God can provide.
Your prayers have been left at the Rock of Calvary, and poured out inside the empty Tomb - where He has promised us the glory of resurrection and life eternal with Him, forever !